How to Host a Fun, Healthy & Sober Social Event
Wow your guests and ensure they don’t miss the alcohol at your next sober event.
As a culture, we tend to rely on alcohol (and perhaps a little too much) to have a good time – with everything from the Big Night Out to dinner with friends often conducted with a glass in hand. For this reason, it can be intimidating to imagine how you can maintain your social life if you’ve decided to cut down on drinking. But in reality, it’s actually more than possible unleash a whole new lease of life into your social calendar with amazing sober events, and this guide will tell you how.
It may be that you have a sober friend you wish to accommodate more, or that you live with a chronic condition such as IBS or diabetes that is worsened by alcohol. It isn’t something we discuss that much, but alcohol can also be a real barrier to weight loss and getting healthier in general - and if you’ve commitment to something like the Whole30, you might be searching for a way to keep all the socialising and fun going without sabotaging your hard work.
After discovering meditation and slowly realizing that you can have a great time without a drink – and miss out on the dreaded hangover the next day! – I started hosting wellbeing-boosting, sober music events, learning a few things along the way. Whether you’re planning a large event or something as small as a dinner party, here are a few ways to ensure you and your guests have a fantastic time.
1. Let people know that alcohol is off the table
It’s likely that, whether you’re organizing an evening party, beachside picnic or ping-pong competition, people may ask about alcohol, and might even bring their own. If they really want to have a drink, of course, that’s OK - but it’s perfectly reasonable to ask that any alcohol be left behind, and to let people know you’ll be providing plenty of alternatives.
This gives people the chance to refuse the invite if the idea of sober socializing fills them with horror - which is a shame, but certainly something that may happen. If you really want your event to be a sober one but find it difficult to be assertive and lay down the law, there’s plenty of lighthearted ways you can put it - perhaps “I know you all have work in the morning, so I’ve done you a favor and made this party booze-free!”.
2. Help people relax naturally
Don’t worry - I don’t mean with well-placed crystals and whale music. People use alcohol to temporarily boost their confidence and lower their inhibitions, but it’s perfectly possible to achieve this without access to a bar. The UK’s ‘Morning Gloryville’ is a great example of this. As a sober morning rave it gets people dancing, creates visual entertainment, encourages dressing-up and generally allows people to let their hair down in an exhilarating and welcoming environment.
Games are an effective way to get people chatting and to bring them out of themselves. If you are looking for something simple to entertain a small gathering, a games console, multiple controllers and something universally enjoyed (Mario Kart, anyone?) can instantly break the ice, while there are plenty of different options for other settings.
For an indoor occasion, consider hosting murder mystery games or classic party games, or even adapting drinking games with amusing but non-intoxicating forfeits. If your event is outside, the world is your oyster as far as entertainment options go - with yard games like corn hole, giant jenga and water balloon dodgeball all easy and budget-friendly options. If you are finding it difficult to come up with something, you’ll find plenty of ideas online, any of which can be spiced up by adding a prize.
At a big event such as a wedding, renting some games equipment, photobooths or arcade-style dance mats - or even organizing a larger themed game (such as a variation of an Easter Egg Hunt) - are all ways to get people talking and laughing. You’ll be surprised how many grown-ups will get in a bounce house or go down an inflatable slide when they get the chance, while dress-up boxes are always a hit.
3. Provide delicious food and drink
The thing about a party or event is that people like to feel as if they are indulging themselves - and the go-to way to achieve this in our culture is with a cocktail (and maybe a few social cigarettes). Putting on a great spread of food is an alternative way to show that the normal service of life has been put on hold, and encourage your guests to get in the party spirit. Evoke feelings of feasting and sharing, and your guests will feel pampered and relaxed.
Offering non-alcoholic drinks that have some novelty always goes down well, and is a great way to add a bit of sparkle to your event. Flavored hot chocolates, fancy coffee, mocktails or Indian yoghurt drinks are all interesting options, while aguas frescas, slushies and milkshakes are both delicious and something your guests can experiment with, should you provide the raw materials.
4. Remember a little novelty goes a long way
It isn’t only the drinks where novelty can be helpful at a drinks-free event. When alcohol is served at a party, it can often be the main focus - to the extent that should it run out, people can feel that the evening is pointless. Taking this out of the equation provides a brilliant opportunity to do something far more engaging – so you can really get creative!
It doesn’t even have to be outstandingly original, but something a little different can be really delightful. For instance, if you’re hosting a barbecue in your backyard and your friends have a band, see if they’ll set up and play in a ‘mini-festival’ - complete with face paint and string lights. Alternatively, you might create a DIY pizza or dessert bar with loads of toppings (some crowd-pleasing, some perhaps a little off-the-wall), or hire a dance instructor to lead everyone in a super-cool rendition of the Electric Slide (which is one way to get sober people on the dance floor!).
5. Don’t worry too much
Not every gathering is a success, and sometimes conversations are stitled. People use alcohol to try to preclude themselves from this possibility, but the fear can still loom large. When you are hosting a sober event, it’s a bit like serving vegetarian food to an omnivore crowd: there’s a good chance there’s going to be one person who won’t enjoy it on principle. However, don’t let this put you off.
All you can do is provide the tools for people to enjoy themselves, and let things take their course. It’s also helpful to remember that you’ll be providing something that lots of people are crying out for. Millennials and young people are drinking less, and it will be a breath of fresh air for your pregnant friends or non-drinkers, who may have found themselves bored senseless at parties for months. And for the legions of people who wish they could drink less and find ways to relax without alcohol, your event might just show them how possible that is.
Author Bio: Will Williams recovered from burnout and chronic insomnia when he discovered meditation, and now tries to help others enjoy a different kind of hedonism. As the founder of Beeja Meditation – who provide meditation courses and classes in London - he and his team organize regular sober wellbeing events in London and (more recently) LA, such as The Gathering, World Meditation Day and Shavasana Disco.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.